Posted by: Loren Coleman on July 1st, 2007
Barry Lane Beyerstein, a skeptic extraordinairé, was born on May 19, 1947, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In recent years, he called Moody Lake, British Columbia, his home.
On Monday, June 25, 2007, one day after the 60th birthday of the beginning of the era of flying saucers just across the border in Washington State, Barry L. Beyerstein, 60, was found dead at his college office desk from a heart attack.
Beyerstein, a psychology professor at Simon Frasier University, British Columbia, had become a famous media commentator on several topics from drug and alcohol addiction to social beliefs linked to parapsychology, from satanists to angels.
Of interest to us, Beyerstein, as one of the leaders in the Society of B.C. Skeptics, often commented on Sasquatch, Caddy, and Ogopogo to the media.
From his detailed notes on who interviewed him on what subjects, Beyerstein listed the following:
1987, October 8 – S. Baker, Omni Magazine: Ogopogo and other legendary monsters.
1989, May 25 – A. Ross, Vancouver Province: “Cryptozoology.”
1991, March 20 – A. Mayhew, Beautiful BC Magazine: “Legendary Monsters”
1995, September 4 – “Are Ogopogo and Sasquatches real?” Interview, TV News, CHBK-TV, Kelowna, B.C., Canada.
1995, April 6 – “A skeptic’s view of the Loch Ness Monster.” Interviewed by C. Forand, Quebec Science, Montreal, P.Q., Canada.
1996, May 13 – “Sasquatches and monsters: Real or imaginary?” Interviewed by R. Crockford, The Georgia Strait, Vancouver.
1997, June 7 – “Are sasquatches imaginary?” Interview, Ross Crockford, freelance writer.
1997, June 8 – “Do sasquatches really exist?” Interview, Peter Clemente, CKVU-TV News, Vancouver, BC.
1997, June 8 – “Monsters- Myth or fact?” Interview, Paul Appleby, BBC TV, Bristol, UK.
1998, July 17 – J. Lippman, Sakoff Productions, Los Angeles, The Entertainment Network, “Are sea monsters real?”
2004, October 26 – K. Adams, CTV-BC Network. “Ogopogo sightings in Lake Okanagan.”
2006, May 1 – Amy Dove, Victoria News, Victoria, BC: “Cadboroughsaurus
and other mythical sea monsters.”
Also, as a SFU Instructor, Barry Beyerstein taught a course, “Social Issues.” In “Week Thirteen,” he dealt with the following subjects and readings:
Monsters and cryptozoological beasts
Nessie and Ogopogo
* What is cryptozoology?
* Fallacies concerning Cryptozoology.
* Successes of Cryptozoology.
* Carroll, R.T. (1998) Bigfoot . The Skeptic’s Dictionary.
* Jergens, V. (1999) Bigfoot makes lasting impression. Cincinatti Skeptic. 8(7): 1, 8-9.
* The Patterson film.
* Chorovinsky, M. (1997) Film director John Landis goes public.
* Moller, L. (1994) It’s a fake! The Rational Enquirer. 6(4): 1-2.
* Nickell, J. (1996) Nessie hoax redux. Skeptical Briefs. 6(1): 1-2.
Barry Beyerstein attended one of the International Sasquatch Symposiums in British Columbia. When asked specifically by a reporter about Skip Frombach’s accounts being chased down a hill by one 9-footer, Beyerstein said:
Obviously I don’t believe the story, but what the answer is would require a whole lot of digging into just who these people are. People who reject all of this often assume that witnesses are fools or frauds. They’re not necessarily either. As human beings, perceptually, cognitively, the way our memory works, we can fool ourselves — sober, intelligent, honest, well-educated people, just as easily as people who are none of the above. – Barry L. Beyerstein
Barry Beyerstein was once asked about B.C.’s famous lake monster, and told a reporter that he would love for Ogopogo to exist, but regrets the lack of visible evidence. He went on to explain that if an individual sees something strange, inexplicable, then “the mind fills in the fuzzy area, the incomplete percepts.” Beyerstein felt we can make sense out of what doesn’t make sense. The example, in this case, he gave was that a lone turbulence, snaking forward briskly, develops a head and horns and hoops, all in the mind’s eye. Nobody’s hoaxing: the brain is just doing its thing, Beyerstein thought.
Within the Skeptics community, Beyerstein was a special person, and the tributes are beginning to flow in, as for example from the CSI Executive Director, who has said, in part:
We all lost a true hero….I am stunned and saddened and I have been searching the internet for an hour this morning looking for news because I just can’t believe it. Barry Beyerstein died. Barry Beyerstein. I don’t have enough words to tell you what this loss will mean to the skeptical and rationalist world. Barry was a tireless defender of science. An activist who has been a staple in the media, television, newspapers, public forums for decades. I searched in the Skeptical Inquirer CD-ROM and found 311 mentions of his name. He is scheduled to teach a workshop for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry in Oregon later this summer – and represent us at a conference in Ireland in the fall. He traveled and lectured all over the world for us, Australia, Belgium, England, Germany, Italy, and he was part of our delegation to China. – CSI Executive Director Barry Karr
The Vancouver Sun has published Beyerstein’s obituary, which is not online. Within it, I discovered details about Beyerstein I had not realized, about how much people felt about his gentle form of skepticism, and even that he had a son named Loren:
Well-loved psychology professor and founder of the B.C. Society for Skeptical Enquiry Barry Beyerstein will be remembered as a “kind, gentle person,” a loving father and above all, a “longstanding voice of reason.”
Beyerstein, a Port Moody resident born in Edmonton, died suddenly at the age of 60 after suffering a heart attack while working at his desk at Simon Fraser University.
The news came as a shock to his family and large circle of friends and colleagues, including his friend of 20 years, Lee Moller.
Together the two founded the B.C. Society for Skeptical Enquiry, an educational group committed to illuminating ignorance and debunking pseudoscience.
“The scientific method and the protocols of science were the backbone of his life,” said Moller.
An internationally recognized expert on human brain behavior, Beyerstein received his PhD in experimental and biological psychology from the University of California at Berkeley.
Moller recalled the many skeptical battles fought by the group, which also included Beyerstein’s brother Dale, from a campaign to get astrology columns out of The Vancouver Sun to organizing debates with creationists.
But Beyerstein was anything but aggressive or close-minded in his skepticism. “He always assumed the best, and let the facts speak for themselves,” Moller said.
Moller said Beyerstein was a “perfect skeptic” because his psychology research helped him understand why people believe what they do.
“Clearly, Barry’s work has made an important and enduring contribution to psychological science,” said Dan Weeks, chair of psychology at SFU, in a written
“He achieved worldwide eminence for his critical analyses of pseudoscience in psychology and medicine. Most importantly, he was a kind and genuine person and we will miss him deeply.”
Since his death, warm words and flowers have been pouring in from people around the world who have been touched by Beyerstein’s warmth and intelligence, said his daughter Lindsay, who has set up a commemoration on her blog, majikthise.typepad.com.
Beyerstein was not only a committed academic, but a caring father to Lindsay and his son Loren, 25.
“He was a very loving and supportive dad. He was always teaching my brother and me,” Lindsay said.
The family is planning to scatter his ashes, and a larger celebration of Beyerstein’s life is being planned by the SFU psychology department in the fall.
“The number one thing he always used to tell me is if you don’t believe in an afterlife, you live on in the way that people remember you, and all you can hope for is to do your best and leave the world a little bit better than you found it,” Lindsay said. “And I think he would like to be remembered as somebody who left the world a bit better than he found it.” by Catherine Rolfsen, “Renowned SFU skeptic dies of heart attack,” Vancouver Sun, Saturday, June 30, 2007.
My sympathy and empathy to Lindsay, Loren, and his family and friends in this time of their sudden loss, and throughout their futures.